Gallant, Blinken discuss alternate local government for Gaza

Blinken presses Gallant, Gantz on hostage deal proposal, says onus on Hamas

Top US diplomat vows deal would advance Israel’s long-term security interests; war cabinet discusses postwar Gaza governance as Diaspora affairs minister slams proposal as ‘joke’

People march on Fifth Avenue to demand the release of the hostages held by Hamas in Gaza as they participate in the annual Israel Day Parade on June 2, 2024 in New York City. (John Lamparski / AFP)
People march on Fifth Avenue to demand the release of the hostages held by Hamas in Gaza as they participate in the annual Israel Day Parade on June 2, 2024 in New York City. (John Lamparski / AFP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and war cabinet minister Benny Gantz on Sunday to discuss the latest hostage deal proposal said to have been put forward by Israel and unveiled late last week by US President Joe Biden.

In his call with Gallant, Blinken “commended Israel’s readiness to conclude a deal and affirmed that the onus is on Hamas to accept,” the State Department said in a readout of the conversation.

He also “reaffirmed the United States ironclad commitment to Israel’s security,” the statement added.

The top US diplomat also told Gantz that in addition to bringing about the release of the hostages, implementing the deal “would advance Israel’s long-term security interests, including by unlocking the possibility of calm along Israel’s border with Lebanon that would allow Israelis to return to their homes.”

The conversations were the first publicized calls between senior US and Israeli officials since Biden’s weekend speech in which he revealed details of the hostage deal proposal authorized by the war cabinet of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Gallant and Gantz.

In a statement released by his office on Monday morning, Gallant confirmed that he had “emphasized Israel’s commitment to dismantling Hamas as a governing and military authority.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill on May 21, 2024 in Washington, DC. (Kent Nishimura/Getty Images/AFP)

To that end, his office said “he discussed the issue of identifying and enabling the emergence of a local governing alternative,” as well as Israel’s ongoing efforts to “facilitate humanitarian aid and services to civilians in Gaza, while pursuing military activities and in spite of Hamas’s ongoing attempts to sabotage and divert aid.”

Gallant also thanked the Biden administration “for their shared commitment to bringing the hostages back to their homes in Israel,” the statement added.

In his speech on Friday night, the US president laid out some of the proposal’s key elements and urged Hamas to accept it and the Israeli government to “stand behind it.”

US President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the Israel-Hamas war, from the State Dining Room of the White House, May 31, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The deal, Biden said, would “bring all the hostages home, ensure Israel’s security, create a better day after in Gaza without Hamas in power, and set the stage for a political settlement that provides a better future for Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

While Israeli officials have confirmed that the offer publicly laid out by Biden on Friday was in fact the proposal Jerusalem submitted, Israeli leaders have asserted that the war will continue until Hamas has been destroyed, and large sections of the Israeli government have criticized Biden for failing to provide clarity as to how that would be achieved.

Although the US president stressed that the deal would remove the terror group from power, and said that it was “no longer capable of carrying out another October 7,” the publicized parts of the offer did not specify how Hamas would be replaced as Gaza’s ruler.

(From left) Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Minister Benny Gantz hold a joint press conference at the Defense Ministry, in Tel Aviv, on November 11, 2023. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

The issue was discussed by the war cabinet when it convened on Sunday night. According to Hebrew media reports, Gallant presented the cabinet with a plan for “humanitarian bubbles” to be formed inside the Palestinian enclave, in which Palestinians proven to have no affiliation to Hamas or other terror groups will be responsible for overseeing the distribution of humanitarian aid inside specific neighborhoods.

According to the Walla news outlet, if successful, the program could serve as a precursor to establishing alternative civilian rule in the Strip to replace Hamas.

As the war cabinet appears to continue to discuss the possibility of moving forward with negotiating the proposed deal, reassurances that Israel won’t cease fighting until Hamas is destroyed from both Netanyahu and Gallant have done little to assuage concerns.

Speaking at the B’Sheva Conference in New York City over the weekend, which coincided with the Israel Day Parade in Manhattan, Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli derided the proposal as a “joke” and said that Israel has “no other choice” but to continue the war with Hamas until the terror group is defeated in its entirety.

Likud MK Amichai Chikli speaks at the Federation of Local Authorities conference in Tel Aviv, December 7, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

“We must bring back the hostages — it is our moral duty as the Jewish people — but we must also look to the future of our children,” he said. “Certain conditions are unacceptable. Ending the war while Hamas is still in power, militarily and politically, is impossible.”

“If we blink, if we relax, we will bring upon ourselves more massacres and wars,” he added.

Similarly doubtful of the ability to remove Hamas from power through a ceasefire deal was Sderot Mayor Alon Davidi, who told the B’Sheva Conference that if Netanyahu finalizes the agreement, he should no longer be allowed to serve as prime minister.

“We need to continue the fighting, not stop the fighting,” he said. “A prime minister who would accept this deal without destroying Hamas, and would allow one million Palestinians to return to northern Gaza — it’s madness.”

“Anyone who signs such a deal cannot continue to be prime minister of Israel,” he added.

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